A Visit to a Las Vegas Temple Dedicated to Beauty & Commerce by Richard Feldman

In the middle of a multi-day February visit to my father, I was searching the Web for new and interesting things to do in greater Las Vegas on the upcoming road trip that I was planning with Miriam when I happened across a description on Atlas Obscura of a free-to-visit James Turrell light installation atop a Louis Vuitton store entitled Akhob (supposedly an ancient Egyptian word meaning “pure water”).  Although Turrell’s works of light have been featured in a number of exhibitions around the country in recent years, I’ve been most familiar with him as one of several artists who have devoted decades out of their lives to the creation and refinement of giant land-based projects paying homage to nature and science in the American West, while innumerable announced completion dates have come and gone.  Turrell’s project has involved the reconstruction of Roden Crater, the remnants of a northern Arizona volcano.  While the Roden Crater project, like other examples of this particular art form, never seems to be able to be finished, it has been possible to visit at times by those who’ve provided substantial financial support.

I mentioned Akhob to Miriam, who was enthusiastic.  According to the Atlas Obscura article, the lead time for tour reservations was at least three weeks, which meant that the first available tour slot would likely be several days after we planned to leave Vegas.  I decided to give it a shot anyway.  Notwithstanding a poor phone connection, I ended my call to the reservation number at Louis Vuitton having arranged places for us on a tour at 1:30 PM on our last partial day in Vegas.  The scheduling wasn’t quite perfect, but the opportunity seemed worth the inconvenience.

Our tour was scheduled for a Thursday, we were arriving in Vegas on a Monday, and the installation was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, so my vague hope of someone else’s cancellation allowing me to reschedule for an earlier tour was unlikely from the start.  However, my reconnaissance visit to the high-end shopping area where the Louis Vuitton store was located (an extension of the Aria Resort and Casino confusingly referred to both as CityCenter and the Shops at Crystals) revealed the existence of additional Turrell light installations in the rooms adjacent to the tram station at the very top of the shopping area.  Miriam was pleased.  Although it seemed unlikely that she would be allowed to take pictures within Akhob, there would be some of Turrell’s work that she could photograph.

Thursday arrived.  We checked out of our lodgings, ate lunch, and parked at the neighboring Cosmopolitan.  We made our way again to CityCenter/the Shops at Crystals, where Miriam photographed other artwork, including the tram station Turrell installation.  We weren’t sure how much in advance we needed to arrive at Louis Vuitton for our tour, so we arrived what turned out to be needlessly early.  After we announced our purpose and were directed to the tour meeting place, we had plenty of time to sit and observe the few people shopping, who I thought looked surprisingly normal given that Miriam had told me that everything in the store cost thousands of dollars.

A few minutes past the scheduled time, our tour guide appeared and introduced herself to us and the other three people on the tour.  We would not be taken directly to our destination, but instead spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes hearing the history of Louis Vuitton and its commitment to art and being shown various items in the store to illustrate the history.  I didn’t think there was a whole lot of point in the store’s proselytizing us, but went along gamely.  Finally, we proceeded to the elevator and pressed the otherwise unlabeled “3” button.

When the elevator door opened at the third floor, our tour guide handed us over to two other female employees who would be our chaperones in the actual installation. Whereas the dark-haired guide had been dressed in black, the chaperones had on nearly identical white outfits of tops, jeans, and sneakers.  With the strong aura of reverence and ritual, it was as if I was visiting a shrine or temple, and our guides were priestesses.

The priestesses ushered us into the next anteroom for us to exchange our shoes for white booties and to read and sign multi-page liability waivers.  I scanned mine in a perfunctory manner in preparation for initialing and signing it, but as Miriam read hers, she became increasingly alarmed by its litany of potential mishaps.  In a moment, she decided to decline the experience and instead wait for me back in the store.

Having returned my waiver form, I climbed the flight of nine steep, curved, black stairs and joined the two priestesses and the three other visitors in the first of two cylindrical chambers.  The colored light suffusing the installation was beautiful but somewhat disorienting.  We were warned about the easily overlooked step between the two chambers, not to mention the six-foot drop off at the end of the second.  Like another unearthly light experience, last year’s solar eclipse, the experience was over too soon, after perhaps 15 minutes, much of which I spent either asking questions (how many light sources were there, where were they located, did the cycle of changing colors repeat and, if so, how long was the complete cycle?) of one of the priestesses or bonding with the blond-haired woman who worked at the Palo Alto gallery representing Turrell.  She had had the opportunity to visit Roden Crater four times, accompanying important clients.  She in turn seemed impressed that I had at one time worked for Lannan Foundation and invited me to stop by the gallery the next time I was in Palo Alto.

Perhaps I should have been talking less and concentrating more on experiencing being suffused by the light, but the allotted time would still have been nowhere near sufficient (I did have the thought that certain mind-altering substances would likely have enhanced the experience).  As we were guided out of the installation, re-exchanged our booties and shoes, and came back down to the first floor in the elevator, the ritualized overtones of the whole event continued to resonate.  I found myself grappling with questions similar to those prompted by my visit years ago to Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field—how much is the interaction undermined by the implied elitism?  Is there any way of making it more accessible while simultaneously respecting the aesthetic vision and economic considerations of the artist and/or gatekeepers?  I appreciate that both natural and human-created beauty offer an opportunity for non-religious (and religious) people to have an experience of the divine, but the implicit or explicit bundling of the experience of beauty with conspicuous consumption spending adds an unpleasant aura to the occasion for me.

When we had arrived at the Grand Canyon earlier in our trip, I was immediately struck by and commented about how I felt yanked out of my sense of selfness by its magnitude.  Both spirituality and art aspire to yanking people out of their senses of selfness.  I suppose that my pickiness about how I engage with spirituality is analogous to my pickiness about how I do it with art.  I was grateful to have had the chance to visit and be immersed in the temple of Akhob, but regretful of the extent to which our society has evolved in ways that require paying homage, if not actual money, to multiple intermediaries for access to great art and its transformative potential.

Photographs from Atlas Obscura.

Internet Resources for Finding Offbeat Roadside Attractions

This blog has been reporting on road trips almost back to its beginning, including an early musing from me.  A road trip includes the objective of getting from point A to point B, but can encompass an enormous variety of recreational and entertainment activities.

Road trips are as individual and idiosyncratic as the people who take them.  The trips that I take with Miriam typically try to address both of our interests and traveling styles.  Prior to the appearance of the Web in the mid-1990s, printed guidebooks were the leading source of guidance for crafting a road trip, but now an overwhelming breadth and depth of information about what’s out there along your route can be at your fingertips within seconds.  Native American archaeological sites, Spanish colonial missions, Civil War battlefields, model solar systems, botanical gardens, giant fruit and vegetable sculptures–you can theme a trip on any or any combination of them and pull together an itinerary from Web sources (or probably from apps, but someone else will have to write that post).

A visit to Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum in February reawakened my curiosity about the range of personal outsider/visionary/folk art projects that were to be found along the country’s back roads, and motivated me promote their place in our trip itineraries (I still regret that one of my favorite road trips, which included a visit to southern California’s Salvation Mountain, occurred a few weeks before the inception of the blog and never got blog coverage).  In addition to my old standby trip planning websites, I found new ones to guide me in my search for roadside attractions that embody particularly individualized creativity.  I’ve written up a number of the websites that were used to generate ideas for stops on the trips chronicled on Miriam’s Well over the last month or so and in mid-March in the hopes of encouraging readers who are interested in seeing visionary artworks (or just giant fruit) for themselves in situ.

Roadside America

Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com):  The name “Roadside America” comes from a classic roadside attraction, a miniature village in Shartlesville, PA that dates back to 1935.  As noted on this website, which has been around since 1994, “road trip know-it-alls Doug Kirby, Ken Smith and Mike Wilkins introduced readers to the world of offbeat tourist attractions with their books, Roadside America and New Roadside America.”  The site has allowed them to expand their coverage and keep it current, aided by an eager, crowd-sourcing crew of devotees of the unusual.  The site claims coverage of more than 12,000 distinct places, including a wide range from commercial attractions to personal, visionary creations and from the small to the massive.  Attractions get a “story page” that features a write-up of from one to many paragraphs, along with pictures, comments by readers, listings of nearby accommodations, and links to nearby attractions.  There’s also a blog, round up discussions of particular types of attractions (e.g., “Big Fruit,” “Mystery Spots,” and “Shoe Trees”), state maps, and features supporting the creation of personalized lists and trip itineraries.  An app is available for iPhone users.

Spaces Archive

Spaces Archives (www.spacesarchives.org):  This website is run by SPACES (Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments), described as “a nonprofit public benefit organization created with an international focus on the study, documentation, and preservation of art environments and self-taught artistic activity.”  The site is an extension of the organization’s mission of identifying, documenting, and advocating for the preservation of these environments.  Given its different mission, the site has many fewer attractions than Roadside America, and includes both international and now-destroyed “environments.”  For road trip planning, it’s probably best to use the “Explore by Map” feature on the front page.  One drawback is that many of the map locations are only approximate; I had to refer to other websites for more exact locations.

Detour Art

Detour Art (www.detourart.com):  Detour Art is “dedicated to the sheer joy of outsider, folk, visionary, self-taught, vernacular art and environment discoveries found all along the back roads (and side streets) around the world.”  There is a fair amount of overlap in attractions with Spaces Archives, but Detour Art also notes galleries and museums that feature the types of art that the site finds of interest.  The website describes the places that it covers both as “environments” (like Spaces Archive) and “sites.”  There are regional pages for the West, South, Midwest, and Northeast, and you can search by state, but I accidentally stumbled on what are probably their best geographical aids, their regional Google Maps mashup pages (the one for the South is here).  The most recent blog post is dated two years ago, leading me to be concerned about whether the site is being kept up.


The Center for Land Use Interpretation (clui.org):  CLUI describes itself as “a research and education organization interested in understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the surface of the earth, and in finding new meanings in the intentional and incidental forms that we individually and collectively create.”  Road trippers will primarily be interested in CLUI’s Land Use Database.  As with the other websites covered here, each place has its own descriptive page; sights/sites can be searched or can be accessed from the map at clui.org/ludb.  Much of what they list are things like power plants, dams, and military bases, but they also cover land art and other large cultural installations.  As with Detour Art, there are signs that the Land Use Database content is not being kept up.

Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura (www.atlasobscura.com): Atlas Obscura purports to be “the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places,” covering over 9,000 places around the world.  It’s similar to Roadside American in its breadth of interest, and its editorial policy seems to allow for articles on a variety of cultural topics, not just physical attractions.  I’ve found the website interface less user friendly than some.  Individual entries include links to “Related Places” that I find somewhat mysterious (e.g., I couldn’t quite figure out why there was a link from Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park in Oklahoma to the Bettie Page Mural House in Seattle).

TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com):  Although I more commonly use it for its lodging and restaurant listings and reviews, the website does have an Attractions category.  Because of the huge number of people contributing ongoing write-ups, the reviews can be helpful for learning about relatively recent changes in the status of attractions.

Creating Your Own Trip/Route Maps

Although I’ve looked at a number of “Create your own road trip” websites, I have yet to find one flexible enough to let me create my desired road trip without a titanic struggle.  I had some success with Google Earth/Maps, but I did feel that I had to spend an excessive amount of time inserting places that weren’t in Google’s database and tweaking routes.  I do find Google’s Street View feature helpful to get a sense for what a place looks like from the road.  One mapping tool that I feel fondly towards, although it doesn’t do routes, is BatchGeo, from which you create a map by pasting labeled data from a spreadsheet, including latitude and longitude.  I’ve used it to create maps for several different purposes; here’s an example of a road trip map (there’s info about each marker below.


Dueling Frittata Recipes by Richard Feldman

I believe that I was first exposed to frittata relatively late in life. I think that I ordered it as a breakfast special at the old restaurant at the Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe and then ate it as a brunch guest at a friend’s house. My first several frittatas were from a recipe for Onion and Herb Frittata in The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two.

Although there is a recipe for “Frittata of Zucchini” on the page opposite the Onion and Herb Frittata recipe, I don’t think I really thought about zucchini frittatas until I came upon a recipe from the San Juan County Farmers’ Market Cookbook reproduced in an issue of the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association newsletter. I like combining two or more recipes for the same dish.

Vegetarian Epicure (VE)
San Juan County Farmers’ Market
1 1/2# firm, young
(4 1/2 cups, diced small)
2 medium, shredded
Onion 1 medum, chopped 1, chopped
Fat 3 Tbsp olive oil 3 Tbsp butter or margarine
Eggs 6 4 or 5
Salt, pepper, crushed basil
to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup Longhorn or Cheddar
cheese, shredded
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Milk (dash)

Both recipes say to use a skillet; I have a cast iron one that is just large enough. I follow NMFMA in sauteeing the onions (& garlic) first, but use some kind of oil (as in VE) instead of butter or margarine. After the onions/garlic seem partly done, I add the zucchini (or other summer squash), which I have shredded in my food processor. I’d guess that I typically have around three cups of the shredded squash, which I like to place first in a collander to drain off the excess water that will seep out (I sometimes but not as often do this with the chopped onion also). Both recipes say to cook the zucchini until tender; VE also says that the onions should be golden.

I mix separately either five or six eggs with the dash of milk, salt, pepper, and dried or chopped fresh basil, depending on if I have fresh around. Both recipes agree to add the egg mixture, lower the heat, cover, and cook until the eggs are set (at least 20 minutes at Santa Fe’s altitude). At this point, NMFMA wants to add the shredded cheese and finish off baking at 350 degrees, while VE says to use a plate to flip the frittata, then cook it in the skillet a few more minutes. A brunch guest during one of my early efforts suggested a third method, which I adopted and continue to use: Turn on the broiler and place the skillet containing the frittata underneath the flame for a few minutes (I’m not sure how this would work with an electric broiler element). Unless I forget, I sprinkle some of whatever shredded cheese I happen to have around on top before doing so.

I tend to serve the frittata ten or fifteen minutes after it comes out of the broiler, although VE recommends serving it at room temperature. VE claims that the recipe yields six servings, but I think that I get closer to four. It’s fun to vary the type of squash; NMFMA suggests additional variations, such as adding mushrooms or peppers to the onions and garlic, and adding toppings. Unfortunately, my trusty food processor was incapacitated by an accident earlier in the year, and replacing it has not gone smoothly, so the frittata in the picture was the only one that I made this year.
Photograph by brunch guest Sharon Niederman.

People of the Road Trip by Richard Feldman

People of the Road Trip

Part of my education from living with a creative person has been learning about the two-way interaction between one’s creative activities and his or her other activities.  I think that Miriam is somewhat representative in the way she makes slots for doing her writing (or revising) by setting aside certain times of the day or week, or going off to a writer’s residency for a week or two, or just driving an hour and checking into a motel for a night.  However, the activities in her life that aren’t directly about writing are also a source of creative material.  Travel in particular can work both as a way to create a structure for writing and as a source of material.

Personal travel is a common source of material and inspiration for artists or creators of all types.  People differ in their styles of going away.  For some, it serves primarily as a chance to rest and recover from the wear of regular daily life.  For others of us, it’s a chance to be stimulated and indulge interests that we aren’t able to fit into our regular lives.

The road trip tends to fall into the category of stimulating as opposed to restful.  I love road trips to a degree that, for almost any destination I’m visiting recreationally, I notice myself trying to turn the vacation into a road trip.  This behavior has extended even to visits to Hawaii’s islands and Juneau, Alaska, not places that are generally thought of as prime road trip territory.  (I think of road trips as being able to be conducted either in one’s own vehicle or by hitchhiking).

Although Miriam would be perfectly happy to spend her vacation on a beach, reading, I have won her over to the road trip as a recreational travel style by assembling itineraries that are built around her interests, and it’s become one of our favorite shared activities.  The experiences of travel tend to have a freshness that’s much less common in the daily activities of one’s regular life.  For many years now, Miriam has mined our travels for material for poems and essays; with the creation of the blog, she uses them as a source of material for that.

I can usually gauge quickly whether other people are fellow road trip enthusiasts.  When some people hear that we recently went on a road trip to Cloudcroft or Tucson, they look blank; others look envious and sigh and comment that we’re always going somewhere and they wish that they could fit a road trip into their schedules some day.  However, the fellow devotees will nod knowledgeably and comment on the prettiness of some part of the drive, or ask if we took such and such road.  They’ll then report in turn on their latest trip.

Of course, road trip narratives are a popular sub-genre of travel writing in general.  Books such as Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Kerouac’s On the Road and Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways are considered classics, and all have their fans, although each of these three titles left me somewhat disappointed.  (I’d be interested in finding out other road trip narrative recommendations).

I now look forward to our road trips both for the experiences themselves and out of curiosity as to what parts of them will find their way onto the physical or virtual page.  I hope to reflect some more on road trips, including how they’ve been affected by the growth of online social networking, in an upcoming post.

Dark Side of the Muse by Richard Feldman

The Dark Side of the Muse?

I became concerned after publishing my last piece that 1) other partners of creative types might read it and feel badly that they weren’t doing enough for their significant others, or, worse, 2) that their partners might read and wonder why they weren’t being better taken care of. I didn’t intend to make myself out as some kind of paragon of creative spousal collaboration. No, despite my loyalty to our household creative team, there are substantial areas where my support might be considered–shall we say, hit or miss.

Foremost among the issues is my somewhat less than heartfelt interest in both poetry in general and that written by my wife. Oh, I can respond with alacrity to a limerick contest and I’ve been known to compose a birthday haiku. When I had to choose a contemporary poet as subject for a substantial project in high school English class, I was able to find one I liked enough (an American poet named Rolfe Humphries) that I’m fairly sure that I was able to turn in a completed project (which was not always a given in those days).

However, I’ve just never been all that drawn in by poetry relative to prose or music or painting or dance. Because poetry is kind of our home team, I’ll dutifully root for it-particularly the success of Miriam’s poetic efforts, but also those of our poet friends, and of poets in general around the world. My duties as poet’s consort don’t include going to all that many poetry readings, but every now and again Miriam asks me either to attend one of her events or to accompany her to a reading by one of her friends, and I’ll usually make the effort and even have an OK time. On the other hand, I have been known to wish that she were drawn to a creative endeavor that I think of as being more useful, like, oh, quilting. I also have been confused to learn that our team doesn’t always care that much about certain kinds of poetry or certain kinds of poets.

I also haven’t been able to be as supportive as I might of Miriam’s prose-writing career. We have some basic differences of artistic opinion. I believe in maintaining a certain level or type of privacy or decorum that turns out not to be a belief that Miriam shares. I also found the essays that she published over many years (and for which I sometimes suggested the topic) to tend towards a tone that I found–fluffy is the word that would come to mind (I find it ironic in thinking about my contributions to this blog that I see certain tendencies in the same direction).

Perhaps the most touchy moments in my efforts at being a writer’s devoted spouse have come when I’ve found myself responding more enthusiastically to the writing of someone else–perhaps a friend and someone whose writing Miriam also admires, but still, someone else. Is this a transgression against the code of spousal fidelity? Which is more important when relating to someone who cares passionately about art, aesthetic honesty or loyalty?

So it seems that at least some of us would-be practitioners of musedom, despite our best intentions, may at times stray from complete devotion to our calling.

Richard Feldman

Thoroughly Modern Muse by Richard Feldman

Thoroughly Modern Muse, or the Care and Feeding of Your Domestic Writer

For many years, there was a cartoon attached to the front of our refrigerator under one of the dozens of resident magnets that showed a small, winged male figure addressing a rather startled looking person sitting at a desk. The caption was something along the line of, “I’m sorry, I’m not the Muse of poetry, I’m the Muse of do it yourself plumbing.”

This piece is addressed primarily to other partners and spouses of creative types. Whether or not your partner’s creativity was a major factor during your courtship and infatuation stages, in the long run it will play a part in your relationship, usually adding both rewards and challenges. What part can we or do we want to play in our partners’ creative lives?

The concept of the Muse is part of our cultural heritage from the ancient Greek view of the world. The complete cadre of Muses is generally considered to comprise nine female immortals, each in charge of providing inspiration in a different area of creativity, such as dance, history, or lyric poetry (do it yourself plumbing being notably absent). Somewhere along the line, Muse lost its initial capital letter and took on broader meanings, “a source of inspiration; especially : a guiding genius,” according to Merriam-Webster, or, more specifically, the source of an artist’s inspiration. (I am disappointed that there seems to be no more specific name than “artist” for the person in the relationship with and benefiting from the patronage of the muse. “Musee” seems possible, but lacks a certain oomph. Any other suggestions?)

Perhaps the best known recent commentator on how the concept of the muse fits into contemporary life is Francine Prose (great name!), author of The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired. Early in the book, she comments, “Certainly, feminism has made us rethink musedom as a career choice…Shouldn’t the muse be retired for good, abolished along with all the other retro, primitive, unevolved sexist myths?” This question eventually leads to the related questions, “Do women artists have muses, and are there male muses?” To this I answer, “Why not?”

Although muses have traditionally been linked most closely to the creative process itself, one can also aid the artistic endeavor more indirectly. What you should include in your service as muse depends largely on the needs of your artist. Among the activities that I’ve been told that I can take credit for in my service as would-be muse are helping brainstorm personal essay topics for my writer to bounce off of her editors; searching the Web periodically for developments in her areas of creative interest; organizing vacations to inspirational spots; and providing hot meals and a generally stable home environment.

Of course, you must balance your commitment to musedom with taking care of your personal needs. Certainly couples where both partners are trying to follow a creative path present special challenges. Francine Prose contemplates giving “men and women equal opportunity to be either artist or muse or both,” but finds “equitably dividing the labor of creation and inspiration” to be problematic. Despite the challenges, musedom is a calling from which you may look forward to potential reward not only from a prominent place in the acknowledgements of your partner’s new book, but from the sight or sound of every poem, painting, song, building, or dance that he or she produces.

Some Observations from A Santa Fe Writer’s Spouse by Richard Feldman

Some Observations from a Santa Fe Writer’s Spouse–First in a Series

My wife, the proprietor of this blog, expressed an interest in having me contribute the occasional guest posting.  I’ve always thought that I could write well, but I’ve never pursued the craft beyond the opportunities provided by correspondence, my workplace, or outside professional activities.  I’ve fantasized its bringing me what I understand that other would-be writers fantasize that it will bring them–money, fame, and understanding and love from an audience that appreciates having their innermost thoughts and feelings articulated.

One of the major reasons I haven’t pursued my writing fantasies is the awareness that there are multitudes (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of other aspiring writers out there with similar dreams. Since I am interested in and try to respect the needs of others, however many degrees of separation between them and me, and since I’ve experienced life as being filled with plenty of satisfactions without having pursued writing for an audience, I’ve felt virtuous that by being reticent, I don’t add to the competition.

Since I moved to Santa Fe in 1996, I’ve come to feel surrounded by would-be writers. One of my former bosses (in a business that wasn’t particularly writing-focused) turned out to know my tax preparer because of having rented a cottage on her property for a year while he worked on a screenplay. Another boss has a novel in progress. One time I went to the dentist to discover that my hygienist had quit to be able to spend more time working on her screenplay (I’ve had a lot of problems with turnover among my Santa Fe dental and medical care providers, but that’s a separate topic).

Of course, Santa Fe is a place that has long been magnetic to aspiring creators.  I’m not sure which came first, all the part-time or seasonal jobs or the creative types who fill them.  My wife’s writing pal Renée has long supported her writing career by working at the New Mexico State Legislature, which, particularly during its brief legislative sessions (alternating 30- and 60- days beginning every January, supplemented by periodic even briefer sessions), provides extra income for the creative class in addition to other Santa Feans needing a short-term gig.  During the three years that I worked for Renée during session, I met a variety of self-identified writers and artists, of whom the most exotic perhaps were the santeros who appreciated the opportunity to pick up a little extra income working as bill clerks on the night shift.

But beyond those around me in workplaces and dentists’ chairs, Miriam and her community of writers-teacher-friends have provided me with years of opportunity both to observe firsthand and to hear countless tales about writers in their various habitats, dealing with their various creative and professional issues, displaying their various plumages (or outfits, as Miriam might say). Although the natural history of writers is not a field of knowledge with which I would have necessarily set out to become familiar, doing so has been entertaining enough.